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The Place I Put My 'Friend' Migraine When Doctors Can't Make Her Go Away

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Pain is my friend. Not the kind of friend who invites you for a hike after you’ve lost your job. Not the kind who offers to shuttle your kid to school when you’re sick. She’s the kind you have as a lab partner for the chem class you’re struggling in. The kind you have to work with or else you fail. The kind where you do all the work, but you are nice to anyway, because it’s just plain easier.

Pain is a lesser evil. I can identify her, describe her, point to her. When I share this with my doctors, sometimes they can make her go away. They treat her, excise her, tame her; even when they can’t, she’s still mine to tend. I tell her to hang on already, I’ll give her some attention. Then I guide her to the oversized oak chest, heavy and warped from age. I fold her inside and tell her to keep still and quiet. I secure the latch and leave her be. She’s not gone. In fact, she reminds me frequently that she’s still there. But she’s in her place.

On good days, I visit her in her chest, in appeasement. “I know, you’re still there. That’s very good.” Pat her on the back. And resume my day. On bad days, she screams and beats against the inside of her box for hours on end; the thumping and shrieking scraping raw the insides of my ears.

This friend, she’s hard to shake — a clinging mass of need. A wounded creature, cowering by my protective limbs. I’ll speak softly to reassure her, though I know my voice can’t reach her core. My patience wears ragged, but erupting at has similar non-effect, so I swallow my reproach.

The other issues aren’t so simple. The dizziness, tilting of the world on its axis, with no mind to gravity, the laws of physics. The nausea that sweeps over me in pulses of misery. I try to explain these things to the ER doctor, my specialists, the nurse; they frown and look at me for a second too long. And then look away. These beasts are perhaps the opposite of my friend: elusive, changeable, a glissade away and back again.

Occasionally I’ll ask the teacher if I can change lab partners. Maybe I’ve had a flash of a different future, a photo in the negative. I’m told no, assignments are set. I stop asking.

Once in a while, my friend will fall asleep in her box. Or find something else to distract her. But she likes to return under the cover of darkness. I sense her presence even before I wake. It’s a Tuesday in late spring, a Saturday in early winter, a Thursday in mid-summer. There’s no telltale change in barometric pressure, no prognostic of dampness or storms to come. She simply returns. And the next time I turn over in my sleep, without waking to any discernible level of consciousness, I know she’s there. Enveloped in my warmth, sharing my room, my bed, my body, my air.

Photo credit: Charl Folscher/Getty Images

Originally published: October 8, 2019
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